'The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart' Review: Docu traces Black and gay souls in Kings of Disco's music
The documentary leaves fans well-informed as it is filled with a smorgasbord of hidden gems and deeper meanings of music if you look close enough, and at times, it gets emotional
When it comes to describing a genre, one has to take into account that one style has been influenced by a predecessor. Influence is built upon influence and it's only when certain energies or emotions begin to receive a stronger response from audiences do we realize the standout importance of a particular style as opposed to its counterparts. While brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb have stated their unacceptance of being labeled as only a disco group, the first thing that pops in the mind when thinking of The Bee Gees is the disco culture that boomed from their careers.
'The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart' is a documentary that leaves fans well-informed, is filled with a smorgasbord of hidden gems and deeper meanings of music if you look close enough, and at times gets emotional. It is certainly a must-watch for any fan, but how does it translate in modern times? The Bee Gees career goes as far back as the '50s but there is much to be said about the film's content that leaves both a gust of enjoyment and an air of bittersweetness.
Although the sensational production deserves a thesis in its own right, this review takes a focus on what was said in several parts that becomes more fascinating the more you digest it. There's an unspoken brotherly kinship that is partially presented in the documentary, one with the artistry stemming from the Black community, that tips a nod to "soul".
Early on in the film, once we're introduced to The Bee Gees in their youth and their musical roots, the late Robin Gibb notes, "Soul, it's always had a special place in The Bee Gees music," and then is followed by an interesting statement from Barry Gibb: "We've always been influenced by Black music. Smokey Robinson, Motown - all that was a big influence on us."
The film opens almost at a leapfrog pace with archival interviews where the siblings share their love for one another and how they saw themselves as triplets due to their unrelenting vision of becoming a success in the industry. The brothers moved to the UK by 1967 and it was around that time that they met their manager Robert Stigwood and added guitarist Vince Melouney and drummer Colin Peterson to their roster.
With their earlier signature sound, The Bee Gees were likened to The Beatles but were distinct in their vocal harmonies reflected in the film as something only coming from shared blood or upbringing. Featured singer Noel Gallagher shares, “When you’ve got brothers singing, it’s like an instrument nobody else can buy. Making music with your family is equally the greatest strength and the greatest weakness you can ever have in a musical partnership.”
We then see how early fame caused them to drift apart and even separate as a band. The brothers eventually rejoined, and having gone through a disbandment and emotional brokenness, they realized a new respect for one another and each other's musical opinions, but by then, their pains would seep into their new records, letting out some of the most powerful ballads in the history of music. So, now a group often with music centered around a piano and slower numbers, such iterations also saw a decline in their popularity and their craft was in desperate need of a facelift.
Cue in the disco era. Featured musician Eric Clapton, who shared Stigwood as manager, suggested The Bee Gees move to the US and have "a change of environment". Barry says, "We had a conversation with Eric about making the comeback. Eric said, 'Well, I've just finished making this album called 461 Ocean Boulevard in Miami. Why don't you guys make an album in America instead of always making an album in England and maybe the change of environment will do something for you?'" The Bee Gees then moved to Miami where their lavish and relaxed living ushered in a sense of freedom and fun. It also adopted cultural influences.
Now, you had a group already famous for stunning harmonies and falsetto vocals and who were established pros at making ballads, but it was a move to the US that kicked their sound into an uptempo pace. The group began experimenting with synth, thickening up their sonics with funky basslines and gutsy drumming and showcasing an infectious stage presence for dancing. In rolls tracks like 'Night Fever', 'Stayin' Alive', 'You Should Be Dancing' and more. It was around the same time when The Bee Gees recruited their secret weapon producer Arif Mardin who had worked with numerous R&B artists. "Arif brought it out of us, all that. We weren't the first to sing falsetto," said Maurice Gibb, adding, "We loved the stylistics. We loved The Spinners, The Delfonics - they were all falsetto lead singers."
"The falsetto is very much a Black tradition, but they've translated into a very interesting interpretation of soul," says musician Mykaell Riley. Former resident DJ of Studio 54 explains, "At clubs, 'You Should Be Dancing' exploded... It was three times a night at any club that you went to. It was a whole industry that was built around this clubbing thing." Riley continues, "This billion-dollar industry was being built way before The Bee Gees and a lot of people don't realize this started in the gay and the Black community. People don't understand what it was like back then for gay people. There was a law in New York that did not allow people of the same sex to dance together in a place that had a liquor licence. And then the law changed and that allowed me to open my club. A new era of dancing music started in the gay underground clubs." Riley adds, "So, the record industry wants to name it, package it, sell it. That was the explosion of the disco sound."
'The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart' comes with plenty thought-provoking moments and is also a story of brothers who never forgot their love for music and one another. Find out all you need to know on the documentary here.